(Washington, D.C., September 5, 2018) – Attorneys at the American Humanist Association sent a letter to officials at Cecil County School District warning that the district needs to ensure that teachers respect the right of students to opt out of the Pledge of Allegiance. The letter was sent after a parent reported that her daughter was pressured to stand by a teacher who claimed that standing for the exercise is required.
The letter details that the student, a sophomore at Elkton County High School, does not wish to participate in the Pledge exercise in any manner. After remaining seated for the first Pledge recitation of the 2018-2019 school year, the student was approached by her teacher and instructed that standing for the Pledge of Allegiance was mandatory. The student politely, and correctly, informed the teacher that she was within her rights to remain seated.
A student’s right to opt out of any Pledge exercise was settled in 1943 by the Supreme Court in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. Since then, federal courts have consistently recognized that students are fully empowered to exercise their First Amendment right to remain silent and seated during the Pledge of Allegiance.
The American Humanist Association is asking the school district to confirm that students and teachers be advised that they may remain seated during the pledge and that all teachers be instructed that they should not persuade students to refrain from exercising their First Amendment right or to further questions students as to their behaviors. The AHA legal team also wants to assure that no disciplinary measures will be directed to any student in response to not participating in the recital of the Pledge.
Monica Miller, American Humanist Association Senior Counsel, writes “The student here does not deserve to be pressured or mistreated merely because she chooses to exercise her constitutional rights. Instead of rote recitation, she has given thoughtful consideration of the underlying religious and political issues raised by the exercise and this should, if anything, earn her the respect of teachers.”
The AHA has sponsored a boycott of the Pledge of Allegiance since 2014, urging students and others to sit out the pledge in protest of the inclusion of the words “under God,” which were added to the recitation by an act of Congress in 1954.
Shake Things Up by Sitting Out the Pledge of Allegiance